NIAGARA, N.Y. — Ryan Gale is having that kind of season.
For two periods, Niagara’s top goal scorer seemed to be out of sync with linemates Barret Ehgoetz and Kris Wiebe, but early in the third he scored a key short handed goal to propel the Purple Eagles to a 3-2 victory over Air Force.
It was a contest that turned on special teams as Niagara capitalized on two man -advantages in addition to Gale’s short handed tally, while Air Force failed to score on all six of its power play chances.
“When we make a mistake, it’s not a firecracker … it’s a bomb,” Air Force head coach Frank Serratore said in summation of Niagara’s third goal. “We went up and down the ice real well tonight. I can’t ever remember coming into Niagara and allowing them only 21 shots. But, we just aren’t finishing and that’s the last hurdle for us before we get better.”
“Overall, five -on-five we lost the game tonight,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “But we won the special teams contest and that was the difference. If it’s a five on five game tomorrow, we’ve got to play a lot better. A month ago we we’re losing these types of games , so we are headed in the right direction.”
The game also marked the return of Jeff Van Nynatten in goal for Niagara after a seven week absence due to injury. The Purple Eagle net minder was not severely tested but did produce some highlight reel moments in the third period . In that decisive stretch, the Cadets responded to their short handed miscue with a vigorous surge, keeping the Purple Eagles bottled up for the closing five minutes, but were unable to tie the game.
Jay Mendenwaldt staked Air Force to a 1-0 lead midway throught the first period after he scooped up an puck and found the Niagara net open after Van Nynatten became tangled out of the crease with another Air Force attacker.
Niagara tied the game in the closing minutes of the first on the power play. Kris Wiebe rifled a wrist shot at the Cadet net and the puck bounced off Barrett Eghoetz. In a prelude to his gritty effort all night, Eghoetz was credited with the goal.
Play in the the second period tilted toward the Purple Eagles but Travis Anderson coughed the puck up right in front of the Niagara net andAir Force centerman Eric Ehn pounced on it to push the Cadet lead to 2-1.
A key moment to the game occurred with less than seven minutes to go in the second. Air Force center Andrew Ramsey was whistled for a five minute major and given a game misconduct. Niagara promptly responded to the extra penalty minutes when Wiebe again hooked up with Eghoetz on a pretty pass from deep in the corner. Eghoetz sent Wiebe’s tape-to-tape pass unflinchingly into the Cadet net and in doing so wrote his name into the Purple Eagle record book by tying the mark for most career goals at Niagara.
Gale’s short hand tally occurred early in the third as he stripped defender Steve Mead of the puck at the Niagara blueline and then rushed in on Foster, beating him with a glove side wrist shot. Air Force could have collapsed right there, but to the Cadet’s credit, they re-doubled their efforts and fought hard to tie the game. Van Nynatten, however, stoned the Cadet’s in the final moments and helped preserve Niagara’s victory